.. a history as exciting as the races. The Challenger of Record, what it means and why 'there is no second'
The America’s Cup races resume in San Francisco, October 2nd-7th. (between races a group of promising young sailors from the Royal Swedish Yacht Club visited San Francisco: The America's Cup …
) More information on the cup: 'Who is first?'
The history of the Cup is almost as dramatic as the races themselves. Think of this as four episodes: the British origin; the New York residence; the International sojourn; and the San Francisco challenge. We’ll also learn how Sweden’s Artemis became the Challenger of Record.
(Special report from the San Francisco races in August: Golden Gate Super Sunday!
The British Origin
The Great Exhibition of London in 1851, a world’s fair, celebrated the culture and industry of all countries in the world.
Great Britain claimed that “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” Key to England’s supremacy was its military and commercial transport system: sea power. England invited all nations participating in the world’s fair to send over a ship for an international regatta. The trophy was a sterling silver euwer. Only the U.S. accepted the challenge.
In that race the U.S. schooner “America” not only beat the other 11 British boats, but the second ship took eight minutes more to cross the line. When Queen Victoria asked who was second, her attendant replied, “Your Majesty, there is no second,” because none was in sight. Today that answer has become the motto of the race, transformed to mean that only the winner is significant.
The owners returned to New York with their trophy and donated it to the New York Yacht Club by deed of gift as a perpetual trophy for an international sailing challenge, titled The America’s Cup, requiring the champion to defend the title and trophy whenever challenged. Established under the laws of New York, that court has jurisdiction in any disputes; and when champion and challenger cannot agree upon the rules of the challenge race, the deed defines the parameters for the race to determine the winner.
This perpetual challenge has become the oldest international trophy sports event and started the longest winning streak in history: the New York Yacht Club defended the trophy for 132 years. For more than 150 years only four countries have won the cup: the US, Australia, New Zealand and non-maritime Switzerland.
The New York Residence
These years were marked by several different classes of sailing boats and by a transition from single to multiple international challengers. The English were the first to mount a challenge in 1870, Canada offered two more, and there were six additional ones before the 20th Century. The 1899 race was the first of the five challenges during the Lipton era. Although the Irish/Scottish tea baron lost the sailing races, he was such a congenial good sport that his tea conquered the US. His company’s sponsorship of his challenges began commercial sponsoring of sports. Up until his final challenge, schooners had raced each other, but his last race in 1930 began the period of J-Class boats, magnificent boats with towering masts under full sail. The race moved to Newport, RI. The J-Class yachts ended with the Second World War.
Racing began again in 1958, beginning the 12-meter era during which the Americans defended the trophy throughout eight challenges over a quarter century. With multiple international challengers in 1970, a series of challenger races were instituted to identify the strongest possible challenger to compete against the champion for the America’s Cup. By 1983 Louis Vuitton sponsored these races and awarded the Louis Vuitton Cup to the meritorious Challenger. This assured that the actual America’s Cup final race would indeed be challenging “by the best sailors in the fastest boats” enhanced by the latest nautical technology and designs, and racing nation against nation under sail and all against nature.
The International Sojourn
This period was marked by a fleet of international challengers. The competitions were fierce and nations exchanged the Cup. Dennis Connor (US) first lost the Cup to the Aussies in 1983, only to win it back in 1987 for the San Diego Yacht Club. But then New Zealand, exploiting a loophole in the rules, got the first Deed of Gift Match in 1988. For the first and only time competitors raced two different types of boats.
The US retained the Cup with a faster but smaller craft on the water as well as in the courts. A new America’s Cup Class of boats was then announced for which all competitors must build to a specified minimal design, so that all boats were similar but could be customized for speed. In 1992 American billionaire Bill Koch successfully defended the Cup. But by 1995 the Kiwis, led by Russell Coutts won back the Cup from the Americans, led by Dennis Connor and Paul Cayard. In 2000 New Zealand recaptured the Cup led by Coutts and Dean Barker, at 26 the youngest skipper to win the Cup.
But then a remarkable thing happened. Coutts and many of his teammates, left New Zealand for a new team being created by the Swiss biotech entrepreneur Ernesto Bertarelli. Many challengers appeared: Italy, France, Sweden, Great Britain and three strong American teams, including Larry Ellison’s BMW/Oracle entry. This time Challenger Alignhi won the Cup (5-0) against Coutts and took the Cup to Europe for the first time, to land-locked Switzerland!
Shortly after winning the Cup, the Geneva Yacht Club (SNG) accepted a challenge from Ellison’s San Francisco Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC). The winner issued a new Protocol detailing plans for the 32nd America’s Cup with some changes. The European team would take its time to select the next venue, drafting selection criteria, with reliable sailing conditions, and opening a bidding war for the venue.
A new era of Cup racing began with Alinghi’s changes: Now the nationality rules were abolished, opening teams to sign on the best professionals regardless of nationality. And new teams could accept transfers of technology from previous competitors. Bertarelli also created the AC Management (ACM) to oversee all aspects of the Challenge, including the Challenger Selection Series.
This 32nd America’s Cup was held in Valencia, Spain, which went into debt buying the event and then building the harbors and facilities to host the international competition. But the incredible revenue from the bidding war between cities funded the ACM. Alinghi also developed a four-year program of World Series racing in various European venues as a means of stimulating interest in the races. New teams were recruited from South Africa and China. The champion Alinghi retained the title against challenger Emirates Team New Zealand.
The San Francisco Challenge
Shortly after defending the Cup, SNG accepted a challenge from a newly formed Spanish yacht club (CNEV) and released the Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup. Many of the challengers balked at the terms of the Protocol and Ellison challenged the validity of the new Spanish club. Agreeing with Ellison, the NYC courts named the GGYC the Challenger of Record. When the San Francisco and Geneva yacht clubs could not agree on a new Protocol, this 33rd America’s Cup challenge became only the second “Deed of Gift” Match, as in 1988.
After numerous court challenges, both teams built enormous multihulls. Just before the race BMW/Oracle Racing substituted a towering wing sail — the largest wing sail ever built (it can’t fit under the Golden Gate Bridge!) — for its former soft sail rig. This BMW/Oracle trimaran, with 30-year old skipper James Spithill, captured the races 2-0, bringing the America’s Cup back to the United States and for the first time to San Francisco, where the Cup will be decided in September 2013 with 72-foot catamarans racing with towering wings. But before that, this October 2-7, San Francisco will host the second Cup event here this fall, again with 45-foot catamarans.
The Challenger of Record
Since the seventies multiple nations have challenged for the Cup. During the week of races, the rankings show who are likely to be the top two teams. At that time they draw up the protocol defining the next race (the minimum standards for craft, crew, and technologies, and possibly even the venue for the finals). The top teams present this to all of the others and before the last race, all together have defined and agreed to the parameters for the next race.
The top craft becomes the Defender of the Cup and the second best becomes the “Challenger of Record”. In this way, while the attention of the media is still focused on the Cup, as soon as the winner is declared, both the Challenger and the initial teams agreeing to race in the World Series are announced. When Bertarelli was defeated by Ellison in the Deed of Gift competition, Coutts became CEO of the BMW/Oracle team and Paul Cayard signed onto Sweden’s Artemis Racing team. Together they helped define the exciting new rules that would revolutionize the Cup for the 21st Century. The Swiss decided not to enter this challenge. Coutts became CEO of the Defender; Cayard, CEO of the Challenger of Record. Our earlier portrait of Cayard: Ahoy mateys! 'Our skipper needs you aboard for the long haul!'
By Ted Olsson